Rethinking data sharing and human participant protection in social science research: Applications from the qualitative realm
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While data sharing is becoming increasingly common in quantitative social inquiry, qualitative data are rarely shared. One factor inhibiting data sharing is a concern about human participant protections and privacy. Protecting the confidentiality and safety of research participants is a concern for both quantitative and qualitative researchers, but it raises specific concerns within the epistemic context of qualitative research. Thus, the applicability of emerging protection models from the quantitative realm must be carefully evaluated for application to the qualitative realm. At the same time, qualitative scholars already employ a variety of strategies for human-participant protection implicitly or informally during the research process.
In this practice paper, we assess available strategies for protecting human participants and how they can be deployed. We describe a spectrum of possible data management options, such as anonymization and applying access controls, including some already employed by the Qualitative Data Repository (QDR) in tandem with its pilot depositors. Throughout the discussion, we consider the tension between modifying data or restricting access to them, and retaining their analytic value. We argue that developing explicit guidelines for sharing qualitative data generated through interaction with humans will allow scholars to address privacy concerns and increase the secondary use of their data.